Malignant roots & precursors of U.S. post-September 11, 2001 Torture

CIA torture techniques in use since Sept. 11, 2001 – are euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”(EIT). They were touted as “science-based;” they are the product of decades of unethical experiments by American psychiatrists and psychologists who explored the psychological effects of extreme stress.

A. CIA’s infamous mind control experiments: BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE and MK-ULTRA were debilitating inhumane experiments conducted by American psychiatrists and psychologists during the 1950s to the 1970s. These experiments explored the psychological effects of powerful psychoactive drugs, hypnosis, electroshock, and stressful psychologically destabilizing techniques including sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation on unwitting subjects.

B. “Obedience to Authority” & “Learned Helplessness” experiments
A series of high stress “obedience to authority” experiments, such as the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, gained notoriety as unethical and abusive. The Stanford Prison Experiment was first published in the Naval Research Review, Sept. 1973. (PDF) Its editorial introduction states: “The research reported in this article is part of a larger project sponsored by the Office of Naval Research which is designed to develop a better understanding of the basic psychological mechanisms underlying human aggression….” In 2002, Zimbardo was elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA), and in his book, The Lucifer Effect (2007) Zimbardo acknowledges that the Stanford Prison techniques were used in the Navy’s SERE program and “These techniques have migrated from the military SERE programs to Guantanamo Bay Prison, known as Gitmo, according to several accounts.”

In 1967, psychologist Martin Seligman demonstrated the behavioral theory of “learned helplessness” by subjecting harnessed dogs to electric shocks they could not avoid until they lapsed into passive state of depression which he coined “learned helplessness.” In May 2002, by then a former President of the APA, Seligman lectured at a Navy SERE school with CIA interrogators in attendance about “learned helplessness.” Psychologist James Mitchell, a former SERE trainer who attended the lecture told acquaintances that he drew important lessons from the theory of “learned helplessness,” whereby animals or people can be reduced to a state of complete helplessness by some form of coercion or pain, such as electric shock. (Warrick and Finn. Internal Rifts, The Washington Post, 2009)

Thereafter Mitchell applied Seligman’s concepts to torture suspected terrorists by subjecting them to sudden and random abuse, removing all predictability from their environment, random schedules, disrupted sleep, isolating and confining  prisoners in a cage called the “dog box” –all of which are designed to cause psychic stress until they reach a state of emotional helplessness;. (Jane Mayer. The Experiment, The New Yorker, 2005)

C. KUBARK (1963), & Humane Resource Exploitation Manual (1983)
The lessons learned from CIA’s massive MK-ULTRA mind control experiments which had explored the psychological theories of human behavior and its control were incorporated into CIA’s torture interrogation manuals: KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual (1963) and Human Resource Exploitation (HRE, 1983). Both KUBARK and HRE include “coercive techniques” and recommend that suspects be arrested by surprise, early in the morning; blindfolded, stripped naked, held in isolation, deprived of any kind of normal eating and sleeping routine; interrogation rooms should be windowless, soundproof, dark and without toilets. A highly redacted version of KUBARK was declassified in 1997; and in Feb. 2014, the CIA released a less redacted version. (National Security Archive)

A prescient observation in CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Manual (1983) which was terminated in 1986 because of allegations of human rights abuses in Latin America:

“The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject…Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order… [However,] the routine use of torture lowers the moral caliber of the organization that uses it and corrupts those that rely on it…

D, “SERE (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape”) is a military training program
SERE was established by the U.S. Air Force at the end of the Korean War (1950–53), and was extended during the Vietnam War (1959–1975) to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps. SERE techniques were designed to prepare US pilots and special military forces for what they might experience if captured by an enemy. The SERE methods were modeled on the practices used by communist enemies during the Cold War. The Chinese Communist used these harsh interrogation methods against American soldiers “for the purpose of eliciting FALSE confessions for propaganda purposes.”

SERE training included highly controlled but coercive psychological techniques such as: sensory deprivation and sleep disturbance; as well as physical abuse; including slapping and a single instance of short duration waterboarding using saline solution. Such techniques are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and military interrogation manuals; they were not used in Defense Department interrogations. The former Chief of U.S. Navy SERE training Malcolm Nance stated that SERE techniques are “coercive interrogation methods” patterned after techniques applied by “brutal authoritarian enemies,” such as “the Nazis, the Japanese, North Korea, Iraq, the Soviet Union, the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese.”

The US Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report, Executive Summary (released Dec. 9, 2014) notes that in 1989, the CIA informed Congress that “inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers.”

A SERE trainer instruction manual states: “maximum effort will be made to ensure that students do not develop a sense of “learned helplessness” because “learned helpless … will render the student less prepared for the captivity than prior to training.” Clearly, SERE officials recognized the potential danger for SERE students; that mock interrogators might become overly aggressive causing students to develop a sense of helplessness. (The Constitution Project’s Task Force Report on Detainee Treatment, 2013, Ch. Doctors’ and Psychologists’ Role…)